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AMERICAN 1921 PIÈCE UNIQUE

THE ICONIC AMERICAN 1921 WATCH FAITHFULLY RECREATED AS IF IN 1921

When the idea of faithfully recreating an American 1921 model from the Vacheron Constantin private collection first took shape, the project looked set to be both exciting and ambitious.

A bridge between the past and future of the Maison, the Vacheron Constantin Heritage department has a place of its own within the Manufacture. Spanning an exceptional timeline that began in 1755, and overseeing a unique collection, it is anything but a dusty museum. The research and expertise of the teams working there on a daily basis are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the creation of new collections and a masterful reference for the Restoration workshop. The department preserves 800 machine tools, workbenches and sets of watchmaking tools, along with substantial documentary and iconographic archives. No less than 420 linear metres are taken up by an infinite wealth of production and accounting registers comprising foreign sales, correspondence between associates, suppliers and clients, various documents and photographs. All contribute to shedding both historical and artistic light on Vacheron Constantin’s activity through the years and centuries. They represent a sum of written instruments serving to ensure the traceability of a creation since its origins, given that all the models produced are systematically referenced in the production registers. This unprecedent heritage helped retrace the history of the creation of the American 1921 and provided a solid basis for the Restoration workshop teams. The latter thus took up the authentic challenge of reviving some forgotten skills and combining today’s techniques with yesterday’s know-how.

Few Manufactures are able to restore all the watches that have come out of their workshops for centuries. That is why Vacheron Constantin makes it a point of honor to pass on this watchmaking know-how and to ensure that the great history of each of its timepieces continues. Experts in the art of maintaining Vacheron

Constantin’s oldest timepieces without altering their nature, the Restoration workshop’s seasoned watchmakers are thus accustomed to combining a historian’s perspective with scientific analysis, but until now they had never undertaken to reproduce an antique watch in its entirety. This unprecedented work of reconstitution, respectful of ethics because it is faithful and precise down to the smallest detail, called upon the multiple competencies of these artisans, who pursued an empirical approach throughout this year-long project.

Several months of research in the Manufacture’s archives, weeks of reflection and observation, numerous experiments, as well as unsuccessful attempts and successful trials were necessary to produce such a work. The American 1921 Pièce unique will be in the spotlight throughout 2021 through prolonged exposure in Vacheron Constantin boutiques around the world.

In order to reproduce the hand-crafted operations performed back in the day, artisans had to work with some historical tools from Vacheron Constantin’s Heritage. A late 19th century facing lathe enabled them to faithfully recreate the elements composing the case; a rounding-up (topping) tool from the latter half of the 19th century served to modify the profile of wheel teeth and to adjust their diameter. Watchmakers used an 18th century upright drilling accessory to drill through the movement’s mainplate. To drive the jewels into their settings, they resorted to an early 20th century staking tool.

These vintage machines were complemented by tools specially made for this project, such as custom-made millingcutters and riveting tools in line with those of the early 20th century, enabling the artisans to work in a manner attuned to that period and closely reproducing the operations and development techniques of the time. The result of this remarkable stylistic exercise is an exceptional collector’s item symbolising Vacheron Constantin’s unwavering commitment to the transmission, enhancement and continuous enrichment of its production skills.

While the watchmakers in Vacheron Constantin’s Restoration workshop fully master the art of bringing back to life the most exceptional timepieces produced by the Manufacture in the course of its long history, never before had they been called upon to rebuild a vintage calibre from scratch.

They began by disassembling and examining every single component of the original 11-ligne Calibre Nouveau powering the original model. Apart from the bridges and mainplate which had to be recreated, the Restoration workshop’s stocks proved to be a goldmine for the artisans who thereby had access to all the necessary blank parts. This involved extremely laborious research, since a vintage case could contain an infinite number of components, all different in terms of size and shape. In order to identify them one by one, the first stage consisted in taking the measurements and dimensions of each of the 115 components of the original movement. This meticulous work of observation and comparison subsequently led watchmakers to make plans and mock-ups of the calibre, a particularly delicate task requiring extremely complex sizing calculations.

At this stage, the archive documents safeguarded by the Heritage department proved extremely valuable, notably in recreating the bridges and the mainplate according to the specificities of this vintage movement. How could each component be adjusted and calibrated prior to assembly?

How should the vintage machines be regulated? How could the jewels be set on the movement, whereas they are now generally driven in? How could the exact colour of the gilding on the wheels be achieved? At what distance and at which height should they be placed in order to be faithful to the original calibre? These were all issues that the watchmakers had to resolve by assembling the components one by one, as any potential error could jeopardise the entire project.

Setting the jewels on the movement was also a real tour de force. Since the 1940s, it has been customary to drive in the jewels, and while the watchmakers in Vacheron Constantin’s Restoration workshop are accustomed to replacing damaged jewels on very old timepieces, until now they had never had the opportunity to make the settings themselves. Successfully hollowing out the metal to the exact depth required to fit the stones to the nearest hundredth required multiple trials. Not to mention the patient research work required to develop the system for reproducing the unique ribbed pattern which, alongside various manual engravings, adorns the movement in the same way as was done at the time.

Accurately reproducing the exterior of the American 1921 also represented a real feat of manual workmanship. Here again, Vacheron Constantin’s watchmakers had to provide answers to numerous technical questions by observing the 1921 timepiece in minute detail, while comparing it with archive documents, and then individually crafting each element of the case and dial.

Some period components were available in the stocks of the Restoration workshop, such as rough blanks of the crown and hands. Others had to be entirely recreated, starting with the 31.5 mm case, according to the dimensions of the original American 1921. It was crafted by a Restoration workshop goldsmith from the specific gold alloy used for the historical model (18K 3N yellow gold), identified with the help of a spectrometer in order to reproduce its exact colour. Only a laser engraving applied to the case back, for customs purposes, distinguishes the American 1921 Pièce unique watch from its ancestor.

The creation of the dial also called for highly specialised expertise on the part of the artisan responsible for restoring the grain and unique beauty of the original dial. Crafted in Grand Feu enamel, an ancestral technique considered to be one of the most delicate in the field of watchmaking ornamentation, it required numerous firings in the kiln at a temperature of over 800°C. It features vintage numerals and logo, along with slender open-tipped hands that have been hand-blued by the Restoration workshop using the production techniques of the time.

And since no detail is left to chance, the exercise in style has continued right the way through to the end of the strap, whose pin buckle in 18K 3N yellow gold (the same alloy as the original model) was also produced in the Vacheron Constantin workshop.

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TANTALUM HULL

The new Tantalum Hull is the last edition of the UR-105 CT and ends the 105 collection in style.

“Tantalum is a very special metal. Its name comes from Tantalus, one of Greek mythology’s bad boys. Tantalum is precious, rare, and extremely painful to machine and finish. We made an UR-110 out of tantalum a few years ago - a first that almost was the last. The team made me promise never to use it again because tantalum ‘eats’ our CNC machines’ bits. It destroys them, reducing their life by a factor of three. But I love its blue-gray luster. Pure magic!” co-founder Martin Frei discloses.

Fortunately, as so often with Urwerk, desire won over reason. The UR-105 TTH is a limited edition of just 12 pieces. “Tantalum is a precious metal weighing approximately the same as platinum. It has a solid presence on the wrist. To machine it is a nightmare, but it has incomparable beauty. Tantalum is one of the most Urwerkian metals I know of. It is dark, almost anthracite coloured, a shade which is an integral part of Urwerk’s aesthetic signature,” confides Felix Baumgartner.

The Tantalum Hull is a beautiful object, substantial and pleasing to hold. Its distinctive octagonal form features deep streaks along its entire length. It is angular, geometric, and symmetrical with strong influence from the Art Deco style. The piece comes with a protective cover, a breastplate that protects the mechanism while Tantalum is a perfect protective shield against corrosion. Hence its name Tantalum Hull.

Activating the sliding “tongue” of the UR-105 TTH opens the hull to reveal its mechanics, featuring a satellite time indication built on a new skeleton carousel. The latter supports four hour satellites, each displaying three hour numerals that rotate in turn along the minute track, providing both analog and digital time displays.

A power reserve indication and digital seconds complete the information on the dial. The digital seconds displaying the seconds in ten-second increments is particularly remarkable. To make it as light and as ephemeral as possible, the seconds disk was made using the LIGA photolithography process and the marker is openworked. The total weight of the display is less than 0.10 grams.

On the back, two turbines regulate the movement’s automatic winding system, which can be easily adjusted using a small lever according to how active the wearer is. In the “FULL” position, the slightest movement of the wrist is enough to wind the mainspring. In “STOP” mode, the automatic winding system is deactivated and the UR-105 is manually wound. A third intermediate position, “RED” (for Reduced), moderates winding to minimize excessive tension and wear.

SPITFIRE TYPE 300

AVI-8 have announced their official partnership with the Royal British Legion in their centenary year and have launched a limited edition timepiece in support of the charity.

Limited to just 500 pieces, each of the Spitfire Type 300 Automatic Royal British Legion timepieces sold will help raise funds for this extraordinary charity and support the crucial work they do for those who serve and have served in the British Armed Forces and their families.

Founded in 1921, the Royal British Legion supports the Armed Forces community through thick and thin, providing life-changing support to veterans, serving personnel and their families through hardships, injuries, and bereavements. Every year the RBL organises the Poppy Appeal, and leads the nation in commemorating and honouring those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf, ensuring their unique contribution is never forgotten.

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with AVI-8 and are incredibly grateful for their support. The limited-edition timepiece is a wonderful way to mark this significant moment for the Royal British Legion, when we are celebrating 100 years of supporting the Armed Forces community. The funds raised from sales of the timepiece will ensure we can continue to provide lifelong support to all serving and ex-serving personnel and their families.” Ben France, Head of Corporate Partnerships, Royal British Legion

Mirroring the clear-cut legibility of the iconic Spitfire’s gauges and readouts, the Type 300’s indices, hands and layout form the primary blueprint of the dial. Completing the dial at the 6 o’clock position is the Royal British Legion’s trademarked two petal poppy, a symbol of Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future.

42mm in diameter, the case is shaped to follow the elliptical form of the Spitfire. From lug to case body, sapphire lens to case back, the Type 300 is an immediate form driven echo of this iconic aircraft. The crown is expertly topped by a red two petal poppy encapsulated in epoxy.

The Type 300 employs an automatic movement with a custom rotor. It is designed to reflect a birds-eye view silhouette of the Spitfire: an ever spinning reminder of the plane and the brave people who flew it. Attaching the timepiece to your wrist is a solid, stainless steel bracelet with solid deployant clasp, ensuring a comfortable and secure fit.

Each of the 500 limited edition timepieces is uniquely numbered and comes packaged in a distinctive blue and red gift box, resembling the Royal British Legion’s branding.

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